Monuments as a Responsibility: Baltic German Learned Societies and the Construction of Cultural Heritage around 1900

Kristina Jõekalda


My article deals with the (mostly medieval) German architectural heritage in present-day Estonia and with the history of monument preservation in the Baltic region in connection with the German-Baltic identity. A central area of interest for me are the representations and constructions of this heritage in monument conservation texts. With the Enlightenment and Romanticism of the late eighteenth century, the first GermanBaltic scholars—literati began to show interest in old houses and works of art. The University of Dorpat (Tartu) was re-established in the early nineteenth century, but local affairs were not included in its teaching curriculum. Because of this, many Baltic Germans felt compelled to research the regional and history and historical monuments themselves. During the nineteenth century, numerous learned societies were established, some of which focused specifically on cultural heritage, for example the Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Altertumskunde der Ostseeprovinzen Russlands (Society for the History and Archaeology of the Baltic Sea Provinces of Russia), which was founded in 1834 and was based in Riga. In a situation where the Russian state and the Estonian and Latvian populations were also undergoing a process of cultural and national awakening, material heritage became a key element in the development of a German-Baltic identity. With a shared patriotic agenda, the learned societies gave new impulses to monument preservation and, around 1900, they published a number of popularizing texts. In my article, I analyze three examples: Die Erhaltung unserer Denkmäler (The Preservation of our Monuments) (1888), Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Geschichte und Altertumskunde der Ostseeprovinzen Russlands, betreffend die Organisierung der Denkmalpflege (Negotiations of the Society for the History and Archaeology of the Baltic Sea Provinces of Russia, Concerning the Organization of Monument Preservation) (1906), and Merkbüchlein zur Denkmalpflege auf dem Lande (The Notebook on the Preservation of Monuments in the Countryside) (1911). The first and third of these texts were written by the art historian and architect Wilhelm Neumann. These texts appear to have been motivated by a combination of pragmatic and national objectives. But what importance did the monument conservators themselves attribute to their initiatives? What arguments did they put forward in order to convince society, or at least those circles who were interested in culture, of the need to protect the remnants of the past?